Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jason watches "Talk To Me"

As a special sneak preview, courtesy of Indiefest and I didn't realize how much of an advance preview this was. This doesn't open until July 13th in limited release and then August 3rd in wide release (according to IMDb).

Anyway, let me just say, Don Cheadle is a fantastic actor, arguably the current best at bridging comedy and drama. And this movie is, if nothing else, a showcase for his talents in both. I'll admit I didn't know who Ralph "Petey" Greene--the ex-con turned DJ/TV star/DC community leader--was before I saw this movie, and now I'm curious as to how faithful it is to reality (in my defense, I was 10 when he died and have never lived in Washington, DC). I wouldn't be surprised if many of the scenes were fabrications, exaggerations, or composites of multiple events. I'd believe that his first day on WOL radio was full of nerves and he was fired on the spot, I'm not so ready to believe that after getting fired he (with the help of Dewey Hughes, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) snuck back in and locked himself in the studio until he was saved by the sheer volume of listener calls. I'm willing to believe that he was unfaithful and fought with his girlfriend and his fellow DJ's. I'm definitely willing to believe that he reported the news of MLK's death with a sense of outrage, sadness, grace, and intelligence that defused a tense situation and calmed the chaos on the streets of Washington. I'm not necessarily buying that those happened on the same day and the news of MLK's death broke up a fistfight between himself and another DJ--that just seems too convenient and theatrical.

But the historical accuracy is not actually that important to me. In this regard, I remember something Roger Ebert once wrote (and I paraphrase): "Movies aren't about literal truth, they're about emotional truth. If they were about literal truth, 'The Wizard of Oz' would be a story of a little girl who gets hit on the head and has a weird dream. But any child can tell you that's not what it's about".

In the same way, biopics tend to work best when they give you a feeling of what the subject character was all about, rather than just a litany of events in his life. And in this sense, "Talk to Me" does an admirable job (again, this is coming from someone who didn't know who Petey Greene was, so people who knew him might have differing opinions). I especially liked how it didn't just fawn over him, it showed him warts and all--throwing up from nerves (or alcohol), showing up drunk, committing career suicide on the "Tonight Show" (and destroying his friendship with Dewey Hughes in the process).

I suspect when it comes out, some reviewers will take it to task for not being more political. Yeah, it takes place in a turbulent time, and he was an outspoken guy. But the political messages--Civil Rights = good, killing Martin Luther King Jr. = bad, burning down the city in response = also bad--are kind of no-brainers. But I didn't really see that as the point of the movie. It's just the celebration of the life of a flawed man who did great things. Perhaps, if you want to see politics in there, there's a message about finding ways to give ex-cons a shot at legitimate careers. But really, it's about the man, his life, and his friends--especially his relationship with Dewey Hughes. Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor work great together

Oh yeah, I also have to say that the period style and costumes were really well done. That's also a lot of fun of the movie. Alright, I've already written more than I generally do about movies that are/will be in general release, so I'm ending it there.

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